I recently attended the AACC Clinical Lab Expo, which is the premier event for laboratory medicine and brings together industry vendors, clinicians, laboratorians and others from all over the globe. The AACC congress amounts to an intense 3 days (imagine 20,000 highly engaged and caffeinated professionals) providing a clear vision of the state-of-the-art, and a glimpse into the future.
2019 marked the 15th year in a row I’ve attended this event. This is a network of people who have dedicated a large part of their lives to the continuous advance of laboratory medicine and the impact of diagnostic testing on patient care. What follows are some musings based on what was ‘abuzz’ at this year’s conference.
Recruit, Retain and Motivate the New Kids on the Block
Many clinical laboratories are concerned with the lack of certified, qualified technicians. Recruiting and retaining the needed professionals is cited as challenging and effecting resource and succession planning. The most successful labs are working hard to incentivize, motivate and continuously train qualified personnel. There was talk of the importance of understanding the personal motivations, strengths and weaknesses of new hires to better engage with these new employees and match them up for certain tasks or projects. A person from a large academic medical center has had success placing ‘extroverts’ in positions working with point of care testing (as opposed to introverts) who are typically more comfortable with frequent contact with the wider hospital care team.
You’ll Do More with Less & Like it!
Labs have been increasingly challenged in recent years to provide the highest levels of quality at the lowest cost. PAMA (Protecting Access to Medicare Act), in place since 2018, has significantly reduced the rates at which labs get reimbursed for many tests. Cost reduction and lean operation initiatives have contributed to adoption of high levels of automation and to more advanced software solutions. These have evolved in the last decade from device and data process monitors to automated workflow managers with decision support capabilities and business analytics dashboards that empower laboratorians with insight on how best to optimize testing.
As has been the trend in recent years, there was talk of Artificial Intelligence and the application of Machine Learning models to aid in data analysis and decision support, from both industry vendors and laboratory providers, with limited real-world applications to date. Arguably, the industry would “move the needle” a lot faster if diagnostic vendors, software technology companies and laboratory provider organizations collaborated more closely on the creation of Machine Learning models.
Direct to Consumer Testing & Patient Generated Health Data
Another topic the industry is talking a lot about is direct to consumer testing (such as Ancestry.com & 23andme) and its impact on consumer perception and how potentially life-impacting sensitive health data is managed. On the other hand, patient generated health data from wearable devices (both consumer products such as Fitbit and FDA-approved medical devices) is starting to get integrated into electronic medical records. This adds to the deluge of data which clinicians must sort through already!
Turning that Lab Data into Gold
Many labs are looking for innovative ways to ensure that the huge volume of data points generated provide more meaningful insights to clinicians when diagnosing and treating patients. Laboratorians have a key role to play by participating in diagnostics care teams to better treat patients, particularly when advanced data analytics are in use. Data Scientists can provide data trend analysis to extract powerful insights about patient cohorts at risk of chronic conditions such as diabetes. Of course, the basis of all this a solid information technology infrastructure and modern application software which can quickly scale.
I look forward to participating in the ongoing progress of laboratory medicine, with keen interest in how advanced software solutions will empower care providers to make significant leaps in the next 15 years.